Captain's run - Richie McCaw
Friday December 29, 2006
By David Leggat
Richie McCaw admits he indulges in the odd spot of visualisation. You know the sort of thing ... beloved of people who make their living studying the goings-on inside of sporting heads.
It's an admission from the All Black captain which comes slowly, as if wondering whether this is the sort of thing which should be discussed out loud. That it might hint at getting ahead of himself.
After all, All Blacks and World Cup titles are a dodgy pairing. They don't happen every four years. It's 20 years since David Kirk became the only All Black skipper to lift the Webb Ellis Cup at Eden Park. Four others, Gary Whetton, Sean Fitzpatrick, Taine Randell and Reuben Thorne, have tried and come up short.
But McCaw is right to think in positive terms about the significant year ahead, to imagine himself holding "Bill", as the Wallabies call the trophy they've won more than the All Blacks, or scoring the winning try, or making the match-winning tackle.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't occasionally think like that," he said. "It doesn't hurt to think good things. It's an old cliche that you focus on what's just round the corner. But at this time when you're not playing you can think of the year as a whole and think it'd be great."
With due respect to the Silver Ferns, Team New Zealand and the World Cup-bound cricketers, it is McCaw and his men who will draw the most impassioned support when their Big Show starts in France in September.
The nation expects, and events of the last couple of years have only swelled those expectations. The All Blacks have been beaten only once in each of those years, both times in South Africa, 23 wins from their last 25 tests and this year were often comprehensively better than the next best nations.
But it's no simple business winning World Cups. McCaw was there four years ago when Australia cleaned the All Blacks out in the semifinal in Sydney.
He reckons he's never sat down and watched a replay of that match. He's unlikely to now, unless it is deemed a suitable extra little piece of motivation at some point in the months ahead.
"I don't think we understood what it took to win the World Cup. We just sort of turned up and said, 'We're going to win it'.
"You look at that English team back then. Everything was put into winning the World Cup. It's a matter of having everything right, and up till now I think we've done that."
But for now McCaw, the International Rugby Board and New Zealand player of the year, peerless flanker and driving inspiration for his team, is resting up, clocking up more kilometres on his way to obtaining his gliding licence to go with the pilot's licence he's had for about three years.
"Gliding's a real sport," McCaw said, offering a distinction between the two. "You've got to get up and look around for places where you can get a lift. The aeroplane is a bit like getting in a car and driving somewhere."
The peaceful moments several hundred metres up are when McCaw, happy back in his central Otago farming patch, can relax. Switching off comes more easily to him than it used to.
He believes it is a skill that needs to be learnt.
"The big thing is you've got to have other interests. Then you don't think about the rugby side of things for a while and all of a sudden you'll think, 'Hell I want to get back to rugby'.
"That's the way it should be. If it becomes, 'Oh, I've got to get back into it', that's not right at all. Flying is something I'm pretty passionate about. I can get away down south where it's nice and quiet. I really enjoy that."
Once the calendar ticks over next week, the big countdown starts. McCaw is one of the 22 players who will skip the early weeks of the Super 14 for reconditioning, but he knows it won't be a gentle lead-in to the season.
And he's aware public expectations can put vast pressures on players.
"In my first couple of years in the team I felt it. On the end-of-year tour this year there were 14 guys who were at the 2003 World Cup who went through that.
"They have matured a lot in terms of knowing how to deal with that side of things."
McCaw sees the World Cup as exciting. Any trepidation at the enormity of the whole business is well hidden - "If you don't get excited for it you're probably doing the wrong thing."
There's no one big key to winning the World Cup, McCaw said. In his mind it boils down like this: you get to the playoff stages and from there it's three games to win.
"You've got to get yourself in the right state to play your best in those games.
"The big thing is we've got to have an attitude that as long as we get ourselves ready the best we can, and perform to our best, then if a team is better so be it. But the worst thing is to walk away and say, 'If only we'd done that'."
Aside from everything else, McCaw has one personal reason he rather fancies leading the All Blacks to glory at Stade de France on October 20.
"I've never even seen the bloody thing up close. It'd be nice to do that."